One More Gale

It has been yet another weekend of gales here on the East Kent coastline. For the last few blustery days, Ferries have been sheltering alongside the meadows, a sure sign that there is disruption and passenger misery going on at nearby Dover port.

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But the high drama of dark sky with lighter sea is very atmospheric:

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Waves breaking over the Goodwin Sands on the horizon
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Today, the sea has been looking almost straw coloured
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Deal Pier taken on our trip up to Sandwich Bay. A tanker sheltering in the Downs near the pier.

We went along the coast up to Sandwich Bay to visit the Bird Observatory. They have just put some Motus aerials up:

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The front of the Observatory with its Motus aerials now up

The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a landscape-scale research network studying the movements of migratory small animals that are fitted with antennae.  Not just birds – bats and large insects as well.

Below is a screenshot from the Motus website showing where they currently have aerials in our area:

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The yellow dot below the y of Canterbury is the Sandwich Bay aerial. The one below that is Dungeness.

We have been tentatively approached by Sandwich Bay Observatory to see if we would consider putting a Motus aerial up in the meadows, a few miles down the coast from them. We know so little about the whole thing at the moment but thought we would go to see these new aerials as a starting point.

While we were there, we went down onto Sandwich Bay beach, a lovely wild feeling place even though the land behind is covered by upmarket golf courses.

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We saw a pair of Turnstones and turning stones were exactly what they were doing.

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Found something delicious

We also saw lots of Meadow Pipits. Note the super long claws on this bird:

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Last February, a Meadow Pipit was ringed in the meadows, allowing us a close-up look at these claws, thought to be used as springs to catapult the bird quickly off the ground away from danger.

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Now returning to the meadows, the Frog mating season continues in full flow and new spawn is still being laid:

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Two new mounds of spawn this morning at the front

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A new female arrived at the pond leading to a rather unseemly tussle between two males to claim her and a resulting Froggy threesome that will need to get resolved before any spawn can be laid:

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Our scarecrow is still keeping the Heron well away from these activities, but there are other animals hoping to cash in on the bonanza of distracted Frog meat that is currently concentrated in the ponds.

One o’clock in the morning and we got our first photo of a Tawny Owl in the meadows for a year, although they are frequently heard calling. Frogs are a well known constituent of a Tawny’s diet:

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We got a better photo of a Tawny presumed catching Frogs back in 2018:

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Foxes are also partial to the odd Frog:

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Yes, we are watching you, so behave:

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This stout Fox is surely full of cubs:

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Although the weather continues foul, birds are pairing up everywhere. House Sparrows successfully raised three broods in this House Martin box last year. For at least a week now, a male Sparrow has been standing above the box and chirping really, really loudly and persistently. Maybe he has lost his mate and is trying to bring in a new lady?

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A pair of Magpies are extremely busy constructing a nest at the top of a Pine tree:

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Its a bit difficult to see, but a Magpie is standing on its nest in the centre of the photo
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A pair of Blackbirds

The Yellowhammers are seen everyday on the strip now and we hope and presume that these have returned to breed:

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Also, newly returned to the strip this week, after a winter spent elsewhere, are the Linnets. How lovely to see them back:

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A Linnet standing on the top of the cage. Chaffinch below.

Skylarks are ascending and singing wondrously so high up in the sky:

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Pairs of Larks are also cavorting together around the second meadow. Its a lovely sight to watch, although I am yet to get a photo of them. I will see what I can do for next time – some sunshine would help greatly.

House Sparrows have been on the strip all winter and they are still here in some noisy number:

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Crows are also resident throughout the year, although often up to no good:

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I forgot to take my camera with me when we visited the wood yesterday. However, what this poor photo below taken on my phone is showing is that thousands of trees are in the process of being planted in the field alongside the wood. The farm changed hands last year and the new owner has taken it out of agriculture to manage it for wildlife. This is an awful lot of trees to keep watered though – I wonder if they are going to try.

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We saw a well-used animal track coming from this field into the new piece of wood that we have recently bought. A trail camera was put by the track to see what was using it:

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It seems that the farmer is not the only one who has been out digging in the field.

The final photo today is of Primroses that are starting to come into flower in the wood, a tantalising taste of things to come:

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It’s Triplets!

We have a lot of trail cameras beavering away on our behalf to give us a little insight into the private lives of the animals that call the meadows and the wood their home. This does, however, mean that every day we have a great many photos and videos to go through, most of which are immediately discarded for being blurry or uninteresting. But every so often there is something that makes you shriek out loud.

At 4.45am on Saturday morning, there was this:

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A tiny, hairless Badger cub was moved out of the sett by its mother.

Then, at 5.01, she returned:

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At 5.03. she reappeared carrying a second cub:

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She returned again at 5.07:

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Then, thrillingly, at 5.09, a third and final cub was carried out of the sett. Triplets this year.

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We think that she has moved them to a burrow that is very close by, although clearly not actually joined underground to the one that she always gives birth in. We estimate that these cubs are a maximum of two weeks old and I read that cubs’ eyes don’t open until five weeks old.

This female Badger had a single cub in 2017 (the year we first got a camera on the sett), twins in 2018 and 2019 and now she has given birth to three young. She is such a good mother, fiercely protective and firm but fair to her cubs. I think probably all Badger mothers are like that, but we have only ever observed this one.

Regular readers of this blog will know how much worry and emotion I have been putting into trying to save our Amphibians from the Heron and so will hopefully indulge me in some more celebration of this year’s successful Frog spawning season. The photo below is rather dark but all the white bits are the the brilliant white of the male Frogs’ throats as they await newly-arriving females. Given that the pond was entirely cleared of adult Frogs by the Heron this time last year, I am so happy to see how many of them there now are:

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Smooth Newt in the hide pond. Lots of Newts to be seen in both ponds.

 

The Yellowhammers continue to visit the strip:

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I was really pleased to see that one of the birds is ringed:

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I presume that this is the bird that was ringed here last May and which has now returned to breed again:

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I liked this photo also from the strip:

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They look so much like a visiting group of bully boys. A Murder of Crows.

There is a large pile of hay that was cut from the meadows last autumn and is now slowly being bagged up and going off in fortnightly green waste collections through the winter. With all this wetness this year, it has sprouted large numbers of a cup fungus:

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I have ploughed through the fungal identification books that we have but I’m afraid that still I am unable to tell you what species this is. There is an outcrop of another fungus in the tree copse but again I don’t know what this is. I’m hopeless with toadstools:

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A Fox has been regularly going over this gate at night recently. What a lovely healthy tail:

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A couple of weeks ago a few of our resident Foxes had picked up injuries. These Foxes are still around and so I hope and presume that their wounds are now recovering nicely:

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I find it upsetting to have to look on helplessly in these circumstances.

Before I leave the meadows, there was this eggshell on the ground – somewhere around the place, a baby Pigeon has been born! Goodness.

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Today, as I type, Storm Dennis is raging about our ears. I went to the wood a couple of days ago and found that it had got off lightly from the previous weekend’s storm, Ciara.

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This is a new tree down amongst the silver Birch
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This is also all Storm Ciara damage

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But given how strong those winds were at over 70mph and how many trees there are, we got off very lightly. But let’s see how we fair with Storm Dennis.

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One of the Tawny Owl nest boxes in the wood

Three of the big raptor boxes are showing signs of occupation. This Tawny box now has sticks protruding:

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The Kestrel box did have visible sticks a couple of weeks ago but these are not now to be seen. However the front board has many claw marks:

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Another of the Tawny boxes also has visible sticks:

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We are not sufficiently experienced in such matters to be able to tell from this what is in the boxes, but there certainly a lot of Grey Squirrels in the wood and I have my suspicions. In a few weeks we will check the boxes, but before then we will get a camera on a pole and try to see if we can observe what’s going on in there.

I like how this wood Badger goes over this trunk. It reminds me of old footage of tanks going across trenches in WWII.

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Three Goldfinch in the wood, an unusual sight here:

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But most of the wood photos continue to be dominated by our Pheasant population:

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Three males now.

We are pleased to be providing sanctuary for these birds now that there is no longer a shoot here, but there certainly are a lot of them around.

So, there we are for today. I hope all the birds out there have found a sheltered little nook to safely see out the storm. However, I do know that those hairless little Badger cubs will be warm and cosy underground snuggled up with their mother and that’s a lovely thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After The Storm

We were away from Kent during last weekend’s Storm Ciara. The meadows are frequently very windy, but in the five years under our management there have not been winds anywhere close to being as strong as the 75mph that were forecast for this storm:

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We worried for the heavily ivy-clad trees along the cliff line and also about the domino effect of trees falling in the wood.

But, in the event, the only casualty was the swing seat in the meadows. Actually, we have long wanted to move this seat but it was too heavy for us to lift – now we are forced to get it sorted:

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The Badger cubs have definitely been born underground. Badger mating happens as soon as the cubs arrive, and here we are:

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This is a lovely serene Badger shot:

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And some gentle, communal family time outside the sett:

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A small group of Yellowhammer have arrived at the strip:

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They are happy to go into the cages. There are three of them in the photo below:

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I hope they are going to stay and breed here again this year.

Ivy is an overlooked plant but it plays an important part in the ecosystem in the meadows. It flowers in September and so provides a large source of nectar at a time of the year when most other flowers are withering. Hundreds of thousands of Ivy Bees hatch out here in September specifically to take advantage of this bonanza but many other species rely on it as well.

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Ivy Bee on an Ivy flower in September

The Ivy berries then ripen during the winter, feeding birds through the hunger gap when other food is in short supply. The berries don’t all ripen at once and there are just so many of them that sustenance is provided over many of the cold winter weeks.

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Great variation in timing of berry ripeness between Ivy plants

A large Ivy plant by the hide pond is absolutely loaded with ripe fruit at the moment and I counted fourteen Woodpigeon feasting on it the other day:

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I put a trail camera to work to see if it could catch them at it. It turns out that it could:

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Another really amazing thing about Ivy is that it has two phases of growth. Its juvenile form has a three-lobed leaf with long stems that shoot quickly upwards when they find a vertical surface, holding on with a mass of roots that sprout from their stems. This juvenile stage doesn’t flower or form fruits.

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The Ivy plant growing up this fence post has the lobed juvenile form at the bottom and the mature phase at the top.

Once the plant is about ten years old and has become established, the growth changes to the mature phase which looks very different. The leaves change shape, becoming unlobed, the growth becomes shrubby and the plant now flowers and fruits.

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Although the juvenile Ivy does provide shelter for animals, it is only really when the plant switches to its mature phase that its wildlife credentials properly get going.

Mackenzie, our scarecrow, has done a fantastic job. He loyally stood out on his own by the pond throughout Storm Ciara and managed to remain upright. Most pleasing of all is that the Heron has not visited the pond once since he went on guard.

The Frogs have got busy. These photos were taken at night down at the pond before we left, using a torch and the camera flash:

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The Frogs had just started mating then. The female’s tummy below is very full of spawn:

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We have returned to find Mackenzie standing proudly over a pond full of frog spawn:

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It feels like a big victory.

The Owl has been in the same place in the wood looking for worms while we have been away:

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I like the atmospheric setting of the final photo for today. Silver Birch woods have a lot of winter interest.

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Sadly, We’re Out.

At 11pm on Friday night, we left the European Union. The next morning, we looked towards France and it was nowhere to be seen. We appeared to be in splendid isolation and, by the time of writing this post on late Sunday afternoon, Europe has yet to reappear.

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Hopefully it is still there though and will show itself again soon. I really like France.

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We have spent some mornings working in the wood recently and have realised that the coppicing project has been really rather revolutionised now that we have this lightweight battery-powered chain saw. A few proper trees have even been taken down to let even more sunlight hit the woodland floor in the coppicing area.

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This has created some lovely wood that we can use for wildlife habitat back in the meadows:

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In February 2017, we bought some logs from a tree surgeon and made a Beetle habitat, whose larvae live in rotting wood under the ground. We dug the logs in deep:

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Digging the hole, using visiting son labour.
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Wedging the logs in

Now, three years later, it looks like this:

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Whilst we have no way of telling if the wood below ground is making itself useful to Beetle larvae, the bit above ground looks like great habitat these days. In fact, as we stood and looked at it, a little Wren was poking amongst the trunks.

We have decided to dig another of these now, this time using supplies from our own woodland.

Last winter we built a log shack down by the wild pond. Our motivation for this was to have a roof that could be fitted with a gutter and downpipe that fed into the pond, to increase its catchment area.

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Since the catchment area of the pond could still do with being larger, I hope that we will also find time to build another of these this year. The stack of wood underneath will be providing great shelter for all manner of things as it gently rots down, not least the amphibians from the pond.

In the last post, we had had a bit of a brainwave to build a scarecrow to put down by the pond as a Heron deterrent.  I brought some likely pieces of timber back from the wood to use as his skeleton:

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We put flesh on his bones with the wool insulation from Gousto deliveries and went to charity shops in Deal to buy him some clothes – including a child’s knitted hat with a face on it which we put over an old dog ball as a head.

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I am really hopeful that this is going to work, but only time will tell. He has now been guarding the pond for nearly a week and there has been no sign of the Heron on the cameras.

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Mackenzie on guard duty at the wild pond

Moving back to the wood, we are getting some nice photos of the Tawny hunting for worms:

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Most of the newly-acquired wood is so densely planted that there is no understorey of plants on the ground. However, the small area below is a bit more open and has some Bramble growing. As we walked through it, we put up four Woodcock – they clearly like the protection that the Bramble provides. We will leave this area alone now for the rest of the winter until the Woodcock have gone.

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The section of the wood from which we disturbed four Woodcock

There are a lot of Pheasants in the wood. Before the woodland changed hands, there used to be a big winter shoot here and I presume that game birds were released into the countryside for these purposes and that these birds are connected with that.

There are two males:

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One of these looks decidedly like a glorious patchwork quilt:

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It seems it is not too early for them to be displaying to females:

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I think the Kestrel box in the wood must be occupied. There is scratching in the front board and some sticks are protruding:

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We will tie a trail camera onto a pole and see if something can be seen going in or out. Although my bet is that it is a Squirrel and I am not getting excited.

It has been sunny and almost warm in the meadows this weekend:

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We walked around and spotted many cheering signs of spring:

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Sweet Violets amongst the fallen apples in the orchard
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Lots of Dandelions coming into flower. I was reading today about what an important source of nectar Dandelions are for early-flying insects.
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Flower buds on the verge of bursting forth on Blackthorn. The flowers come out before the leaves on Blackthorn. Hawthorn, however, gets its leaves before it flowers.
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Yes! There was even a Blackthorn flower already open.
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Old Man’s Beard on its way into leaf.

Yesterday lunchtime, a male Sparrowhawk came in for a bath:

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Chestnut cheeks and sides and a slate-grey back

Then, 45 minutes later, his much larger and heftier wife also came in:

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Larger, with a brown back and no chestnut cheek. She also has an eye stripe and looks pretty scary.

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I probably don’t strictly need to include this photo of a Fox at the Badger sett, but I like it. Like domestic dogs, male Foxes cock their legs.

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The hedgerow project has now officially been completed, since we have decided not to plant Oak standards along its length as we had originally been planning:

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We are going to need to keep it watered during this coming first summer and probably the second one as well while the roots properly develop – and there are 600 new plants there. We have taken delivery of a trickle feed hose system:

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The idea is that the water slowly oozes out through the fabric of the hose. It is, however, only 30m long and we have 85m of new hedgerow and so it will have to be moved around to different sections of the hedge. I expect that it is all going to be a bit of a struggle as usual.

The final photo today is an astronomical one. On Monday and Tuesday this week there was a thin crescent moon in conjunction with Venus, the brightest planet. My photography skills were not up to capturing how incredibly beautiful this was in the clear night sky, but the photo below does give some indication.

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A sliver of moon with Venus, top right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The War Begins in Earnest

Whilst we accept that a Heron needs to eat and we wouldn’t begrudge it a few frogs, this time last year we watched helplessly on as a Heron consumed hundreds of Frogs and Newts and more or less cleared the ponds of amphibians.

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It even hunted in the dark on moonlit nights. Our sense of justice and fair play was outraged.

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Recently, it started sporadically returning and so we strung some string in a network across the pond, hoping to limit the bird to just one sector.

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It seemed very put off by this and it wasn’t seen for a while. However, as we suspected, all we had done was to win an early battle in a long and bitter war. We are now approaching what must be a highlight in any Heron’s diary – Frog mating time, when large numbers of Frogs gather together in water to mate and spawn. The photo below is from 2018 before the Heron found the pond:

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I was working in the meadows one morning this week and I had to chase the Heron away four times. One of the times it left with a Frog dangling from its beak. I was most displeased.

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My next gambit now is to increase the density of the string network to further inhibit its movement through the water. However, I am not helped in this by the Foxes who have become unwitting allies of the Heron by chewing through the strings every night.

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The strings need retying pretty much on a daily basis.

The Heron is very sensitive to our appearance and will fly away as soon as it sees us, even if we are a really long way away. So, inspired by the wonderful adaptation of Worzel Gummidge over Christmas, we are wondering if another strategy might be to build a scarecrow – and what fun that would be. We could move it about a bit and change its clothes from time to time. We are taking this war to save our amphibians very seriously but there is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves at the same time.

There seems to be a tradition of quiet rebellion here, with animals nesting where they choose rather than where we want them to. We have had Squirrel in the Little Owl box, House Sparrows in the House Martin box, Starlings nesting in the Woodpecker box. So why not Blue Tits in the Bat box?

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There were a pair of birds going in and out of the box on a sunny January morning this week. They won’t be nesting yet, just trying to get ahead of the game and get those towels down on the sun lounger.

At this time of the year, Foxes seen out and about during the day on the cameras are likely be non-resident dispersing Foxes. This one only had part of its tail:

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However, three of our resident Foxes have also picked up injuries. This one has got an injury on its cheek:

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This one has been hurt above its eye:

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And this one is carrying a hind leg:

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Its a tough life being a British Fox, on the whole. Although the only natural predators of the Fox are Golden Eagle and Badger, both of which would only take cubs, the life expectancy of a wild Fox is generally 1-3 years. In captivity they can live over 14 years, much like our domestic pet dogs.

I feel that now is a good time to include some more gratuitous pinnacle shots:

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I went to a talk in the week given by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. They are now in the final year of their three-year ‘Making a Buzz for the Coast’ project in Kent. They are working in an area from Dartford to Deal with farmers and other landowners to create flower meadows out of otherwise unused, neglected land and joining them up by doing the same to roadside verges.

There are 270 species of Bee in Britain. Of these, one is the Honey Bee, 24 are Bumblebees and the rest are Solitary Bees. Of the 24 species of Bumblebee, 22 are to be found in warm and glorious Kent, although some of these are now very rare.

The blonde bombshell poster girl of the project is the Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum). It has a noticeably higher pitched buzz than other Bumblebees, hence the ‘shrill’ bit to is name.

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Internet photo of the Shrill Carder bee

One of the UK’s most endangered Bumblebees, this is a late-flying Bee – the new queens aren’t hatched until September and so they need plenty of flowers still available then or the next-year’s queens won’t get produced. Also, they don’t fly very far and so a population can find itself cut off with insufficient food to sustain it.

As with many of the rarer Kent Bumblebees, it has a long tongue and so will be visiting flowers such as Red Clover, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Comfrey and Knapweed – all of these plants grow here in the meadows.  I have made a sparkly new 2020 resolution to make it a year where I pay much more attention to Bumblebees and try to identify those that I see. The second meadow in particular is a large flower meadow all summer long and we could have populations of these rare Kent Bumblebees that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust are working so hard to conserve.

The Tawny is worming in the wood every night at the moment, sometimes making several visits a night. It is clearly a worm hotspot.

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A ghostly image of the Tawny in flight, legs dangling.

Also from the wood, a female Bullfinch visits the pond in the Beech grove:

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A heart-warming photo of the wood Badgers. Bit Besotted By Badgers – that needs to go on my gravestone when the time comes.

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And the magnificent Pheasant who seems to live under the feeders these days:

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As I have been mentioning in every single post recently, we are finding the coppicing of the wood really hard work. One of us has developed Tennis Elbow (now renamed Coppicer’s Elbow) and the other of us is complaining about a sore thumb.

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But this is something that we are planning on doing every winter – are our bodies going to be able to take it? We sought advice from our Pilates teacher who has suggested a new sawing technique using the power of more of our bodies than just our arms. We have also decided to invest in a bit more equipment:

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Silky pruning saws. His and Hers – one has a slightly longer blade than the other

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A battery operated chain saw. We are also going to buy protective trousers that have a lining of wool which would wrap around and disable the blades before they get to the leg. Chain saws scare me and this piece of equipment will be treated with the utmost respect.

There is another month of coppicing before nesting season starts and we will see how much more we can get done with this new equipment and sawing technique!

Back at the meadows, we didn’t know what best to do with the turfs that were cut when planting the hedge and so we have laid them along the line of the hedge making a small bank. Somehow this felt right:

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There has been another daytime appearances of a Badger:

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And I liked this photo of a Dunnock being king of his castle amongst a sea of Stock Dove.

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There continue to be a lot of Stock Doves here this winter. There are ten of them in this photo:

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This is the weekend of The Big Garden Bird Watch run by the RSPB when half a million people will spend an hour watching the birds and counting what they see. We set up the mobile hide near the feeders yesterday to give the birds time to get used to it and then spent an hour in there this morning:

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Our results this year are probably quite representative of what is going on, but weren’t terribly exciting: 7 Magpie, 3 Woodpigeon, 2 Stock Dove, 1 Blackbird, 4 Blue Tit, 22 House Sparrow, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Dunnock, 1 Robin, 5 Crow, 1 Greenfinch, 2 Great Tit, 1 Herring Gull, 1 Coal Tit and 2 Long Tailed Tit. Fifteen species though – we were quite pleased with that. These results have now been submitted and will form part of one of the world’s largest citizen science projects.

I wrap this post up today with a couple of photos taken from the meadows over the last few days:

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The sharp edge of a weather front moving over the meadows on Monday
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The view north from the highest point of the meadows. Deal Pier with the Isle of Thanet behind.

 

New Year, New Wood

On Friday we became the very happy owners of a second piece of woodland. This new wood is about 4.5 acres and adjoins our existing wood, making the whole area around 11 acres in size. This is also part of a wider woodland, a lot of which is also being managed for nature.

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Our new bench

This new wood is very different to our original woodland. Other than a few mature trees along the boundary with the farmland, the wood was clear felled 10 years ago, the area then being replanted with mixed native trees. These are now growing very strongly and densely so that it is not yet an easy wood to wander through and there is still much we haven’t explored.

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Dense tree growth
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Some mature trees down the boundary with the farmland

The new trees were planted with plastic protectors and a lot of these are now lying on the woodland floor. We need to pick up these up.

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There is also a large open area that is packed with beautiful wild marjoram in the summer:

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There is a lot of coppiced Hazel but we intend to leave the coppice in this wood for a few years. We already had probably more than we can cope with.

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Some of the trees have catkins, already opened out:

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And there is a Primrose in flower – a tantalising forerunner of what is to come:

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Our initial plan is to clear a few pathways so that we can properly familiarise ourselves with this new wood over the coming year. We will also put up some bird boxes in time for the spring nesting season and probably dig a small pond or two.

We have been away in Norfolk for a few days. While we were away, there was a lot of Fox activity like this on the cameras in the meadows:

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When I got round to looking at the videos, I realised that these skirmishes must be a prelude to mating. Later that same day, 17th January:

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Fox pregnancy lasts for 53 days and so this means that the cubs will be born on the leap year day, 29th February.

The vixen is the Fox that I have been keeping an eye on because her tail looks a bit ropey and hairless and I am worried that she has mange. If there are signs that this is getting worse, I will need to break out the medicine-laced jam sandwiches once again.

The new hedgerow is completed for now, although we have decided to add some larger, root-balled Oaks at intervals along the stretch of the hedge because this is the traditional English way. The landscape gardener who did the work is coming back in a month to do this.

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He has advised us to water-in these new bare-rooted trees because, surprisingly, the soil was quite dry at the depth that he was planting them. How can that be – we have had so much rain? Any water just drains away so rapidly through the chalk.

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Watering the new hedgerow – it took ages because there are 600 new plants.

The soil might be dry a few inches down, but it is certainly rather wet and muddy at the surface as this Badger is demonstrating for us:

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The soil was not at all dry in Norfolk – the underlying rock there is also chalk but there is much more of a skim of glacial deposits on top of the chalk which retain the water. Three of the reserves we visited were partially or completely closed due to flooding. The farmland hide at Pensthorpe looked out over a field that they had planted up with a mixed crop specifically to feed farmland birds through the winter. There was a large flock of Linnets feeding there:

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It was lovely to see. In the summer, we have a lot of Linnets here in the meadows but they always disappear for the winter and I wasn’t sure where they went. Probably it is to places like this where they can still find food.

Pensthorpe is also carrying out conservation breeding programmes for several species – one of which is the Turtle Dove.

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This bird is from their captive breeding programme but I long to be able to include a photo in this blog of a wild Turtle Dove taken in the meadows  – maybe 2020 is the year. This reminds me of another job – we need to get the strip rotavated before the winter is out.

Badger cubs will be born within the next couple of weeks and there are signs that this event is not too far away. Badger mating often occurs immediately after the birth of the cubs and the nightly videos show the male Badger, Scarface, doing a bit of macho posturing and making the wickering noise that he does at such times. Moreover, there was this most unusual daytime Badger appearance:

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To me, this is all heavily suggestive that the birth of the cubs is imminent, although we will have to be patient because we will not see them until April.

Here is a lovely female Green Woodpecker about to take a bath in the meadows:

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And here is a female Sparrowhawk about to have a bath in the wood:

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We stay in the wood for the final photo for today. I moved the Tawny-Cam trail camera a bit closer to where the Owl has been seen a few times hunting for worms. It seems that it does favour this one particular place because it was back again in the same spot last night.

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I wonder what proportion of its diet is worms during the winter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hedging Our Bets

Hedgerows are enormously helpful to wildlife. They provide food and shelter, both from predators and the weather, for many species and lots of these species will be using the hedgerow as their home as well. Hedges also form protected wildlife highways, connecting populations that might otherwise become isolated. Bats use them as flight paths to commute along between their roosts and feeding areas. Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species are those that have been identified as requiring conservation action because they have declined rapidly in recent years and there are 130 of them that are known to be significantly associated with hedgerows.

The meadows here are surrounded by hedgerow – we have 630 metres of it.  However, some of it is badly overgrown:

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The run of hedgerow along the cliff has been neglected for many years and is now heavily swamped by Ivy. Although Ivy berries, produced on mature Ivy like this, are a valuable food source in late winter when everything else has gone, this is not a healthy state for the hedgerow to be in. The evergreen Ivy provides resistance to the wind and some of this section of the hedgerow gets blown down every winter.

Other parts of the hedgerow are more healthy. Before we started managing the land, the upper stretch was routinely heavily cut back every year. We have been growing it higher and deeper so that it provides much more food and shelter.

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The upper hedgerow with the very wide base that it has these days.

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We have decided to plant a new 85 metre hedge this winter – a mixture of native hedging: Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Field Maple, Hornbeam, Beech, Dogwood, Hazel, Spindle and Crabapple. Blackthorn is not being included because there is a lot of that in the rest of the hedgerow and we are fed up with its suckering.

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Preparing the ground for the new stretch of hedgerow in the second meadow. It is near the Slow Worm refuges – Slow Worms also really like hedgerows.
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Getting the mulch to the site at the crack of dawn this morning. Depressingly, it was raining but it cheered up later.
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600 bare-rooted hedging whips. 600! 
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Sorting the trees so that there is the right mixture in each bag and then one bag will be planted per 10 metres of hedge. Don’t worry – we will reuse all of those plastic bags.
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The landscape gardener who is doing the hard work recommends using this mulch, peat free and made from grass and bark.
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Getting the mulch bags in position
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Starting to dig.
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Progress being made

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In the event, the light was gone from the day before the job was completed. The trees that are not yet planted were heeled in and work will recommence next weekend. We have decided to invest in a trickle watering system that will run along the length of the hedge over this coming summer to give these 600 new plants the best possible chance of survival while they establish their root systems.

The buzzards are still sitting in the agricultural field on the approach to the wood.

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They have also been appearing on the cameras in the wood as well:

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There has been this male Sparrowhawk, no doubt drawn to the area by the birds coming to the feeders just above this camera

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And the Tawny is hunting for worms at night, although I wish it would come a bit closer to the camera:

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And there is this beauty as well. I love her paw, very characteristically held out flat in front of her, Badger-style. She looks so myopic:

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At home we have had work done on the Aga because one of the cylinders needed to be replaced. The old one then sat outside the back door for ages waiting to be taken down to the recycling centre.

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But it was fortunate that we had delayed because we eventually thought outside the box and realised that it would be fantastic in the wood.

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Coppicing work is continuing – at quite a slow rate but the whole feel of this part of the wood is now much lighter and more airy

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Still much more to be done but never have my arms and shoulders had so much exercise.

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A different part of the wood, away from the Hazel coppice.

As a member of the Red Mason Bee Guardian Scheme, I was sent 50 Bee cocoons in March to hatch out into Bees and let them fly in the meadows gathering pollen.

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By the end of spring, the Bees reach the end of their lives but only after first nesting in the cardboard tubes that I am also sent.

In September, I returned 53 completed nest tubes to the Guardian Scheme:

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They have now advised me of what they found when they processed these 53 tubes: 184 Red Mason Bees cocoons and 24 Blue Mason Bee cocoons. That is 4 healthy cocoons per tube. Blue Mason Bees block the tunnel entrance off with leaves rather than the mud of Red Mason Bees – I had thought that these were Leafcutter Bee tunnels, so that was a surprise.

In 2018 I only sent them 45 completed tubes but they contained 342 healthy Red Mason Bee cocoons –  this is 7.6 cocoons per tube. So the 2019 results of 4 cocoons per tube represents quite a deterioration in productivity.  Perhaps the weather conditions were less favourable or perhaps predators have caught on to the fact that there are so many Mason Bees around and are accumulating in the area. We will have to see what 2020 brings.

We have a birding scope which has a more powerful lens than my biggest camera lens and we have finally got round to purchasing an adapter so that photos can be taken through the scope using a phone – Digiscoping.

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Taking a photo of a Border Force vessel out at sea.

Here are the resulting photos:

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This is at high tide. Note the waves breaking over the Goodwin Sands behind the ship.

We are really pleased with these results and so stand by your beds for many more photos taken out to sea that will now be included on this blog!

Meanwhile, the photographic experiment of the stone pinnacle continues…

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The Stone Pinnacle

It’s true that it does look much improved with a Fox topknot:

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But it looks even better when they visit at first light and we get to see them in colour:

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